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Georgia House gives 2nd chance to $40M jet fuel tax break

By RUSS BYNUMNovember 15, 2018

ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia House voted Thursday to give a second chance to a $40 million tax exemption on jet fuel that lawmakers defeated months earlier in a spat over gun rights with Delta Air Lines.

The tax break for airlines passed the House 141-18 on the third day of a special legislative otherwise focused on aid to the large swath of southern Georgia devastated by Hurricane Michael.

The fuel tax got added to the agenda because Gov. Nathan Deal had salvaged it with an executive order over the summer. The law requires legislators to ratify that order now that they have been called back into session.

Deal and other supporters say Georgia needs to exempt jet fuel from sales taxes for its airports — including busy Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta — to remain competitive with other states that have eliminated the tax.

But Republican lawmakers in February cut the jet fuel exemption from a broader tax bill. That happened when Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who presides over the state Senate, called on legislators to punish Atlanta-based Delta for ended fare discounts to members of the National Rifle Association following the deadly school shootings in Parkland, Florida.

The version passed Thursday by the House still must be approved by the Senate. The Delta-NRA conflict was referenced only once in the House in a floor speech by Rep. Scot Turner of Holly Springs.

“Let this be a symbolic measure that we are closing the door on a dark chapter,” Turner said. “And as a legislature we are not going to punish an entire industry because we don’t agree with one player’s political points.”

None of the 18 House lawmakers voting against the tax break spoke about Delta or gun rights. Rep. John Pezold of Columbus said he opposed the exemption because it wasn’t fair to operators of smaller charter planes that run on gasoline instead of jet fuel.

Even if the Senate passes the fuel exemption, Georgia lawmakers may need to deal with it a third time next year. The version before the legislature now would extend the tax break only through the end of the fiscal year June 30.

Republican House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge said Delta officials ultimately convinced him the tax break was necessary because Georgia’s 4-percent fuel tax was higher than most other states. He said there’s a good argument for making the exemption permanent when the legislature reconvenes next year.

“But it’s a long way until then,” Ralston said.

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